By Ottawa Sportspage, for Louis-Riel Rebelles
For Carolane Fortin, Emily Gratton and Mackenzie Houle, joining the young dance program that’s exploding in popularity at Louis-Riel high school has been like entering a whole new world – not unlike the feeling they get when they’re performing on stage.
“What I like most about dance is being able to escape this world and change everything,” describes Houle, who’s been in dance since age 2. “To change people’s emotions in the audience without even saying any words – just from our expressions and the way we move. Our dance team is a close family, and it’s really cool how we can connect together and create this totally new story.”
Fortin, Gratton and Houle have all danced for many years at École de danse Louise, a studio that partnered with Louis-Riel to launch a new stream amidst its sports-study program last school year. They each tell a tale of building self-confidence through dance, learning to try new things and developing new skills, and building strong personal connections.
“The teachers are like my second family and my second parents,” Fortin says of the Louise instructors. “I started here at age 4 and never left.”
The biggest life change since entering the Louis/Louise program is that they can complete their dance training during school hours (and receive a phys ed credit for it). That means they can see more of their (biological) family come the evening.
“Before, I’d finish school at 2:30 and I’d start dance at 4 or 5, and finish really late,” Gratton recounts. “So then I’d do my homework really late at night, and it wouldn’t be done as well as it is now.”
The trio all changed schools to attend Louis-Riel when the dance program started up.
“I was hesitating, honestly, because I didn’t want to leave my friends at my old school,” Fortin recalls. “But now I have my nights free, so I can hang out with my friends when I want.”
Young girls flocking to new sport at LR
The pioneering trio were part the first wave of 12 dancers to enter the program. That number has now ballooned to 29 in year 2.
Louis-Riel has made a concerted effort to add sport streams that traditionally appeal to female students. Cheer is another new stream, while the Fillactive à Louis initiative provides a welcoming girls-only atmosphere.
The Grade 7-8 exploratory sports program now has equal number of male and female students registered.
“It’s important for girls to feel they have the same opportunity as boys do in sport, physical education and fitness,” underlines Louis-Riel sports-study coordinator Ken Levesque. “We’re really, really pleased to see how popular and successful it’s become already.”
Thanks to training at the school’s top-notch facilities, the program has also provided the dancers with an increased focus on physical preparation, fitness, injury prevention and rest.
“The training is specialized for dancers, but each of us have different bodies – I might not be as strong in the legs or the back as someone else – so we all have our own individual programs too,” explains Fortin.
Each athlete also has their own objectives in the sport. Many simply want to keep active and enjoy time with friends, others seek to share their love of dance as instructors themselves, while some seek to audition for big academies in Toronto or New York City and dance professionally.
“From there on, you could have so many doors opening,” Houle outlines.
“But even if someone doesn’t study in dance, there are so many things you can do. You can become a performer, a teacher, do conventions. It’s a world of never-ending possibilities.”
Now senior students, the three dance companions have begun thinking about their next steps beyond high school, but even if they soon select different paths, they plan to stay in sync no matter what.
“We’re always together, and it’s nice to be with people that ‘get’ you,” Houle adds. “We definitely have long-lasting friendships that will continue outside of school once we graduate. We’ve become so close.”